NEW BEDFORD — It was a milestone more than a decade in the making, as New Bedford High School saw its four-year cohort graduation rate increase to 90 percent for the 2020 school year, the highest it has ever been since state tracking began, school officials said.

School department officials made the announcement today, following the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s recent reporting on statewide graduation rates. Also announced were other significant education successes in New Bedford Public Schools.

The announcement took place in front of New Bedford High School's Beardsworth-Gonsalves Gymnasium.

A Major Turnaround for New Bedford High School

The 90 percent rate marks a nearly 30-percentage point increase since 2010, when the four-year cohort graduation rate – a cohort being a student who entered the school with the same class and remained through all four years – was 61.4 percent and the total four-year graduation rate was just 55.8 percent. That rate was 88.1 percent in 2020, up 7.5 percent from 2019.

The dropout rate, which had reached a high of nine percent in 2009, was just 2.1 percent in 2020.

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It was a major turnaround from those 2010 numbers, which were part of the reason DESE designated New Bedford High as an “underperforming” school in 2011, resulting in monitoring by the state of the school and the district. A reform of the city’s educational system began, and by 2017, DESE had released the district from monitoring.

School officials noted that since 2017, “New Bedford High School’s graduation rate has continued to increase, as have test scores, and participation in Advanced Placement (AP) courses and college admissions successes.”

New Bedford High School’s Advanced Placement participation rate rose from 45.5 percent in 2019 to 51.3 percent in 2020.

Not coincidentally, three students from the class of 2021 have been accepted into Harvard.

Courtesy New Bedford Public Schools
Courtesy New Bedford Public Schools

New Bedford School Officials Tout Partnership Between Students, Staff

“In 2011, the New Bedford Public Schools were placed under state monitoring and were threatened with full state receivership, due in no small part to the low graduation rate at New Bedford High School,” Mayor Jon Mitchell, who also serves as ex officio chair of the New Bedford School Committee, said. “In my campaign for mayor that year, I said that the graduation rate was unacceptable, and that although it would take time, we would not allow the doors of opportunity to be closed to our city’s schoolchildren. It has not been easy along the way, but today’s announcement shows that major reform in urban public education can be achieved with an unwavering, long-term commitment to higher standards.”

Superintendent Thomas Anderson said it was a combination of the students’ desire to meet the challenges before them and the staff’s dedication to helping them with the turnaround.

“This is excellent progress and clearly shows that when we invest in our students the possibilities are endless,” Anderson said. “On a daily basis, our students have demonstrated their ability to grasp rigorous subject matter and meet high academic expectations. We believe in them, and most importantly, they believe in themselves. New Bedford High School is delivering on its pledge of excellence – to foster critical thinkers who are college and career-ready in the digital age. The staff is to be commended for this milestone.”

“The hallmark of supporting our students is that every effort is highly personalized,” said NBHS Headmaster Bernadette Coelho. “From the first day they walk in as freshmen to the day they cross Walsh Field as graduates, they have had a designated support team of educators and staff that follows each of them throughout their four years. This is deep work; it involves constant interaction with students, including teachers knocking on doors when necessary.”

English Language Learners Benefit from New Bedford Turnaround

Another major focus of the turnaround has been “accurate and adequate identification of English Learners (EL) students, who had not been properly identified in the district before school improvement efforts began,” school officials said. Among EL students, the graduation rate has risen 56 percentage points just in the past six years, with a four-year graduation rate of 29.2 percent in 2014 rising to 85.1 percent in 2020.

Congdon School Honored

In addition, the James B. Congdon Elementary School was recognized as a 2020 National Blue Ribbon School by the United States Department of Education. School officials noted “it is one of just six such schools in Massachusetts and the only one outside an affluent suburb – and has been designated a statewide School of Recognition by DESE for the past two years. Congdon’s student body includes 34 percent of students designated as ELs.”

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